Richard Belalufu is an immigrant from the Democratic Republic of the Congo. He arrived in Cape Town in 1994, leaving his family behind when he heard the Mobutu regime was hunting him down, as he was playing the role of double agent. He has a diploma in electro-mechanical engineering, and had an important job for a big company in DRC but now works on a construction site in Cape Town. Family were finally able to join him some years later. He finds life very hard. Xenophobia is a big problem.
Burundian Francois Bangurambona was a deputy minister in the Hutu government, when Tutsi soldiers came in to his office one day asking for the minister who was not there, and as they left, they threw grenades into his office. Luckily for Francois, his driver heard the explosion, came upstairs and got him in a car and to hospital and on a plane to Kenya. Now Francois runs a car repair business in Nyanga.
Isabelle and Albert Ngandu
Albert Ngandu left the DRC because ‘death was waiting for me’. He fled to Johannesburg with two of their four children, then after a while came to Cape Town, where he found a job at Boris the Baker. Eventually Isabelle joined him with the other two children, and gradually they built up a business selling curios. They now have three shops and a stall on Greenmarket Square, have never been back, and miss “the big family” they left behind.
Also from Angola, Cynthia left as a small child, and was brought up by her sister, who she believed to be her mother. When she discovered the truth, she began to long to see her mother. Her sister beat her when she discovered Cynthia was pregnant. The child was premature and died at a few weeks old. Cynthia is now saving her money to return to Angola to see her mother.
Nelson is in his early twenties, sent from Angola by his father to avoid having to become a soldier. He is now a car guard in Cape Town, threatened one night by gunmen wishing to steal a car. But he must work, his girlfriend is pregnant, and he wishes to make a life with her.
Deka Yusuf (Somalia)
Deka’s businessman father was killed by robbers, and as her brother had been killed previously, Deka left Somalia the next day, three years ago. She was 6 months pregnant at the time. She was arrested on Namibian border, as the Namibians did not recognise her Somalian passport. She spent six months in jail where she gave birth to her daughter, Nisa, then her mother sent her money to bribe officials and got to Cape Town. Finds South Africa better, but “home is home’.
Better Lives is a series of video and print portraits about people from other countries in Africa who come to Cape Town as refugees or migrants, fleeing war or poverty and seeking a new home for their families. Cape Town is seen as the city of opportunity at the foot of the continent, and the new arrivals add to the already rich cultural mix.
How is life for the newcomers? Do they find the stability they seek, or do job difficulties and xenophobia make them long for their old home?
The series might be seen as an update of an earlier portrait series, A Few South Africans, etched and screen-printed portraits of women in the struggle against apartheid. The subjects of Better Lives are the new South Africans, and the series refers to the classic African photographic studio format.
Six projected portraits, transferred from 35 mm film to DVD. Each film plays for three and a half minutes. Also printed as film stills, large scale digital prints.
Better Lives, 2003
Video stills, 35 mm film transferred to DVD projection
3 min 30 sec loop
Click on the images below to watch the videos.